Though poker’s basic rules are simple, experienced players develop years of experience to improve their poker skills and strategy. Techniques, tips and tricks, and the most essential ‘poker face’ are all the important facets and can bring a lot of spice to the game.
But there is one aspect that beginner players often ignore, and that is under the gun poker position. They think that all positions are the same and do not affect their gameplay. But the fact is that if you are in a UTG position, you are the first player to act and must use some strategies in order to increase your winning chances.
What is Under the Gun in Poker?
Under the gun or UTG is one of the poker positions where the player is sitting to the immediate left of the BB (big blind) in the games. The player in this position is the first one to act in the pre-flop betting round. In the games like Omaha or Texas Hold’em poker, the mandatory small and big blinds are placed, and two hole cards are given to each player. After this, the betting round starts. The first stage of the betting round starts with the player sitting on the left of the BB, the position known as UTG. The player in this position is the first one to either raise, call, or fold. The term under the gun is given as the player has a lot of pressure to act before everyone else.
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How to play Under the Gun Position
What is the best poker strategy for playing UTG in Texas Hold’em? Well, many experts will say that playing tight in early positions is generally the best way to save your stacks. As every player gets to play after you, you will be at a disadvantage, so try to save your chips whenever possible.
As you are at a disadvantage when it comes to the position, you will want to focus on playing strong hands when deciding to play. You may prefer to play a suited jack and ten when you are at the button position, for instance, but if you are in an early position, the hand is actually worth folding.
When playing poker, it is crucial to consider your position. You should know what kind of action you want with your hand and then play accordingly from your position. Obviously, you should play only the strong hands from an early position, as you have very little control over how the hand will improve. As you will often raise/re-raise when you are in any position with big pockets pairs. Suited face cards such as Ace-Queen, Ace-King, and Ace-Jack are also good ideas. You may also get away with a King-Queen suited, but it’s a little risky.
Your suited connectors are going to be the source of some contention. Some will suggest that you can hit 8-9, 9-10 or even 10-J, but this is a tough place to be in. You may use them, but not too often. You are not in the best position to predict where these hands go, and also, you have less room to bluff if things go bad after the flop.
The most challenging part of being UTG is you don’t really know where you stand with your hands. You may think of raising from the position that could be in your favour, but you don’t know what it would mean going forward. Since you are sitting in an early position with a good hand, you will be dealing with a lot of issues every time you move forward. You could make it through the early rounds only to get bluffed by massive bets, and you will always wonder whether you are being bluffed only because you are in an early position and that you have to play tight.
In reality, even the good hands can get side-eyed due to the fact that you cannot play like a loose-aggressive player when you are sitting in an early position. Doing so will lead to more players deciding that they can call you out as well as playing with your head as you try to move forward in the game. This means you will need to improve your ability to read your opponents’ cards on the table. You have to be sure on the table that you have the best hand, or you will be inviting trouble any time you bet. You cannot get out of your position; however, you can get your adversaries out of your head.
Essentially, keep your range as tight as possible. Since you are UTG, you are restricted and reading your opponent is the only way you have. If you win the game, it’s because you had a monster hand, to begin with. On the other hand, if you want to play with fancy tactics, just remember you can do it at the later stage of the game.
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When you are under the gun position, how do you cope up with players who push you around?
Easy answer: you play your hand aggressively. One of the way to win the pot when you are in this position is to get aggressive when you have a premium hand. When you have good cards and if you can overpower your Poker hand in pre-flop, you don’t have to worry about your problems once the flop comes out.
Let’s take a common scenario: A player is dealt QQ under the gun. Many players prefer to limp instead of open raising. This is because they think that QQ is a strong hand, so they slow play to give the opponents every chance to put money in the pot. That's a great idea, but the problem is that it is faulty logic.
Of course, a pair of queens is an excellent hand. It will beat every possible hand except the two, both of which have almost a low chance of appearing on the board. So, your task is to get your money and leave the hard work to your opponents. If your opponents have decent hands, they’ll call an open-raise because they will think that they also have the strongest hands.
Of course, the game of poker is all about maximizing your EV, and making a play that is less lucrative than another is a bad step. In this position, it is almost always better to raise rather than call. If you call, you will be leaving a lot of money behind.
The only time when you should hold back your aggression is when you have small pocket pairs. A pair of twos or threes is not the best hand to play with. These hands are best for set values. This means you will fold them if you don’t see them on the flop. Since you will have less equity overall, it is smart to limit your pre-flop pot-building with small pocket pairs when you are playing poker in UTG.
How you want to handle this situation is totally up to you. Personally, I do not suggest open-limping with small pocket pairs. The only situation when you can get away with this move is when you are playing in passive games. However, if you are an average game player, you should either fold it or raise it.
Challenge of playing from Under the Gun position
As you are the first to act in a poker hand, you have no idea what your opponents might be holding. In general, poker is a game of limited information, but when you are in under the gun position, you have no knowledge at all.
Only one thing is certain: there are eight (or five if you are playing with a maximum 6) players to take action behind you. There are chances that at least one player out of eight has a strong hand. Of course, there is also a possibility that everyone was dealt the worst cards and are ready to fold and give up the pot, but at this position, you simply just don’t know.
Another significant downside to act the first one before the flop is the disadvantage of the position. If you get called or 3-bet by any of your opponents other than blinds, then you have no solution but to play the rest of the hands out of position. This, as you already know, is not ideal.
So, the main drawback of playing from this position in the game of poker is the limited information that you have about your opponent's hand and the disadvantage of a position that you can easily find yourself in.
Playing from under the gun isn’t the most enjoyable aspect of poker, but it is something you just have to deal with. Just stick playing with strong hands and avoid getting into trouble with the worst hands. Tighten your ranges, don’t be anxious to play your big hands quickly, and forget about big bluffs and fancy tricks from UTG, and you’ll be much better off. Why not practice these poker strategies by playing free poker online before heading to play for real money? Practising for free will improve your odds from this worst position and gain an advantage over everyone else on the table.